Orthodox Jews Burn Masks in Protest of Governor Cuomo’s ‘Draconian’ Worship Restrictions

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Members of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City gathered in the streets on Tuesday to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest restrictions imposed on them as new COVID-19 cases rise.

The protest occurred in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. WNBC-TV reported cardboard boxes and masks were thrown into a fire that started in the middle of a crosswalk as protesters called out Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats.

Cuomo’s new restrictions limit capacity at houses of worship in certain areas to a maximum of 10 people.

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“Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio think we’re nobodies. Are we nobodies?” community activist Heshy Tischler said to the protesters gathered.

In a news conference Tuesday, the governor talked about the new restrictions and said he had spoken to the Orthodox Jewish community about them.

“I understand the imposition this is going to place on them,” Cuomo said Tuesday afternoon.

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“I said I need their cooperation; I need their assistance,” he said. “They’re very cohesive communities. I asked them to work with me to follow these guidelines, and that was positively received.

“I said to them that I am doing this for a very simple reason — because I have such respect and love for the Orthodox community. … It’s out of respect and it’s out of love, and because I want to protect them.”

David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath, said the conversation with Cuomo “was largely a one-way monologue and contained no mention of this new plan.”

The governor’s three color-coded levels of rules — red, orange and yellow zones — have different specifications for houses of worship, according to the Jewish News Syndicate.

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Borough Park is in the red zone with houses of worship limited to just 10 people, mass gatherings prohibited and nonessential businesses and schools closed.

In the orange zone, houses of worship will limit capacity to 25 people and mass gatherings to 10 people.

Houses of worship in the yellow zone will limit capacity to 50 percent.

At a news conference Monday, Cuomo had angered many in the Jewish community when he said, “If you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues.”

“I’m extremely disappointed by the governor’s new rules and creation of zones for the COVID hot spots,” small-business owner and Orthodox Jewish community member Rivkie Feiner told the Jewish News Syndicate.

“They are very confusing, and we have more questions than answers right now. We feel targeted, and his way of handling the situation right now is causing anti-Semitism to skyrocket to levels I haven’t seen in my lifetime.”

While Dr. Aaron Glatt, associate rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere and chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiology at Mount Sinai South Nassau, said it is important to fight the coronavirus with “science and good public-health measures,” he thinks closing houses of worship is going too far.

“Closing selected and essential religious facilities in a community will, in fact, potentially harm the community and public-health efforts to contain the disease,” he said.

“Proper safe worshipping can be accomplished without draconian measures.”

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